Vendors Focus On Integrated Web Acceleration Devices

Integrated Web acceleration appliances and software making their way to market promise to be a boon for network professionals.

A slew of companies have announced Web acceleration products over the past few weeks aimed at speeding up content delivery to end users from Web, e-commerce sites and corporate intranets. Many of these products offer users integrated feature sets they previously had to purchase separately. And analysts say such integration will not only help users reduce the number of devices on their network, but ease installation, management and maintenance of large-scale networks.

Among the companies making these integrated device announcements are F5 Networks Inc., FineGround Networks Inc., SpiderCache Inc., and Surgient Networks Inc.

F5 and Surgient each plan to ship products that combine switch capabilities with traditional Web acceleration features, such as load balancing, caching and secure transaction processing – also called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) offloading. Surgient also plans to add streaming media features, as well. The companies hope the integrated devices will give them a leg up on multidevice offerings from NetScaler, Akamba, CacheFlow, Cisco, Network Appliance and Nortel.

For its part, SpiderCache says it is looking to meet user demands for managing fewer devices by bundling its caching and content delivery products onto a single appliance.

SpiderCache’s Enterprise 2.0 dynamic content cache lets IT managers cache not only static content, but dynamic content. Dynamic content has the most potential to cause Web server overload because it requires a Web server to continually compile images and text on the fly.

SpiderCache is also planning to release a beta version of its SpiderCast content delivery software, which is offered as a stand-alone package or pre-loaded onto an appliance. SpiderCast will compete with Akamai’s CDN product. Both are aimed at allowing Web site managers to automatically deliver and manage the content they send out over their networks.

FineGround is also looking at integration. Its Condenser 3.0 content caching product has integrated SSL processing capabilities – a feature FineGround’s CEO Nat Kausik says customers often require when doing e-commerce. Competitor CacheFlow also offers an integrated caching/SSL-offloading appliance.

Michael Hoch, an analyst with Aberdeen Group Inc., says multi-function appliances will help customers simplify the set-up of their Web acceleration infrastructure and avoid some of the pitfalls that come with integration. For example, instead of having to consider a load balancing appliance from one vendor, having to turn to another for switches and yet another for caching, they can get all those functions from one vendor, and in theory at least, manage those tasks through a single application.

One user company agrees. At Whirlpool Corp., Condenser 3.0 is being tested in connection with the company’s planned migration of 14,000 users to Web-based Lotus iNotes.

“As we upgrade our e-mail system, we are trying to keep network costs down, and [Condenser 3.0] could save us from pushing entire refreshes across our pipes as people access e-mail,” says John Macko, director of network services for the company.

In addition, he hopes the product will improve performance. He says iNotes uses a Java compiler to construct page views, which takes time. By only sending new portions of page views to end users’ desktops, delivery could be faster.

Hoch says the potential downside to integrated products is that users may not have as many options to customize these multifunction products to suit their individual needs. Hoch compares buying a multi-purpose appliance to buying a boom box versus individual stereo components. In some cases – and he says these products are so new, it’s hard to tell – users may get some features in a multi-purpose box that offer better performance and quality than others in that same device.